L. Neil Smith's
Number 356, February 26, 2006

"Socialism is a religion of death and destruction"

In the Age of Terror, a War on Torino
by Jonathan David Morris

Special to TLE

It's been a while since the Olympics seemed to mean anything.

Back in the day, the Summer and Winter Games would come once—and together—every four years. The very infrequency of these events made them seem rather special. Memorable. Even politically important. But in the 1990s, that changed. The two portions were torn apart like conjoined twins joined at the soul. They were staggered so that one or the other would take place not every four years—in keeping with the definition of "Olympiad"—but rather every two.

Every Olympics has blended together like so many seasons of Survivor ever since.

Now no one knows their Lillehammers from their Naganos.

This week marks the end of the 2006 Winter Games in Torino. In light of how meaningless the Olympics have become, it would be easy to cast these games to the Recycle Bin on the Desktop of History. America has won a number of medals so far, but they've been overshadowed by a series of embarrassingly high profile losses and blunders. Few Americans care one way or the other. And even fewer are watching. Most of us will probably look back four years from now and think of these Olympics as little more than "those two weeks when everyone called Turin 'Torino.'"

But unlikely as it may seem at the moment, I think these games will turn out to be a lot more memorable than anyone realizes. It may take us 15-20 years to notice this. And after we notice it, many of us may not admit it. But I believe the very same things that've made Torino so forgettable for Americans will someday make Torino an Olympics we'll never forget. Because subtly, under our noses, everything wrong with post-9/11 America—everything creepy and distinctly un-American about it—has been put on trial in these Olympics. Our imperial hubris. Our false wars with mutating excuses. The torture. The secret prisons. The enemy combatants. All of it. Each and every piece is on trial. From the bulldozing of Dixie Chicks CDs straight down to domestic spying and this crazy, insane belief that the president being above the Constitution is the Constitution. It's all here. And its losing. For better or worse.

This probably sounds like an exaggeration, and it is, but only to the extent that every Olympics' political implications are. In 2002, with America fresh off September 11th, Salt Lake City hosted the Winter Games. The world was with us back then; they showed us goodwill, as we showed them our proud but tattered flag. The U.S. went on to win its most Winter medals ever. But if that was a symbol of American resilience in the face of terror, then 2006 is a symbol of American overreach in the name of the very same thing.

Post-9/11 America gave birth to the strange belief that we can't be isolationist, but that we don't have to care what the rest of the world thinks. So now we're at war in Iraq and Afghanistan. And elsewhere, in the "shadows." And soon in Iran, too. And Syria, maybe. And God knows where else after that. Common sense would seem to indicate this pace is impossible. But we're bent on spreading our unique brand of freedom around the world anyway. The problem is, it isn't the real kind of freedom. It isn't homegrown democracy. No, instead it's mass produced. A watered down, saturated version—prepackaged for popular consumption. Just like so many songs and movies and restaurants in modern, monocultural America. And just like our 2006 Winter Olympic athletes.

Of course, this sounds harsh. I'm not saying any of this to demean the men and women representing our country on Torino's ski slopes and skating rinks. And to be fair, the Winter Games were never America's forte anyway. But all I heard in the weeks leading up to Torino was that this was going to be America's "best team ever." And this never struck me as a simple sign of confidence. It was the height of arrogance, really. But the bad kind of arrogance. The idle kind. The kind that makes promises that America's best—or most over-hyped—team can't possibly compete with.

This is why Michelle Kwan, who was sent to Torino without qualifying, turned around and came home right after arriving. This is why Nike poster child Bode Miller, who appeared on every magazine cover short of Cat Fancy, flopped miserably and then stated, quite frankly, that he didn't even care.

America has had its successes in Torino, yes. And when you consider the fact that Thailand's only athlete lives and works not in Thailand but Philly, or the fact that so many NHL players fill other nations' rosters that the league is on hiatus for two weeks, it's clear that America's fingerprints are all over these Olympics. But that's not what we'll remember, if we remember any of it. We'll remember figure skater Johnny Weir dropping from second to fifth because missing his bus somehow turned him "black inside." We'll remember Lindsey Jacobellis grabbing her snowboard in midair on the last jump of a race she was leading, only to fall and finish second. A little bit of Shock n' Awe for you. And showboating.

It's honestly as if some of these people thought they would win not because they were good but because they were American. Or maybe they're not the ones who believed that. Maybe we are. But this strategy has never worked well, historically. Not since the days of David and Goliath. It's the same reason the Brits lost America to those cagey Americans, and why America lost Vietnam to those cagey Vietnamese. Indeed, it's why Rocky Balboa beat Ivan Drago in Rocky IV, even though Rocky's training regimen consisted of chopping wood and running up mountains while Drago's consisted of steroids and, you know, actual sparring. Because in sport, as in life, it's all about heart. The eye of the tiger. The young, hungry, and arrogant have it. The old, bloated, and arrogant do not.

To me, that's the attitude that fuels so much of what America stands for right now. We won't shine a light on the world; we'll install one in every dark, tyrannical country. Not because we should, but because we're America. Love it or leave. Like it or not.

Perhaps we don't appreciate this now, and perhaps we won't for many years, but what we're witnessing in Torino at the moment is Jesse Owens—a black Alabaman, of all of God's creatures—capturing four gold medals in godless, sociopathic Nazi Berlin in the '36 Olympics. It's Team USA pulling off a "miracle on ice" against the Soviets at the Lake Placid games of 1980. The only difference is, instead of the Nazis and instead of the Soviets, it's us now. Which isn't to say that America is anything like the Nazis or Soviets, but rather that this is what happens when David becomes Goliath. This is what happens when a country, a superpower, sees fit on any stage—let alone the Olympics—to exert its dominance as if by divine right. Every Goliath—be it the mighty U.S.S.R. or Hitler's ill-fated Aryan experiment—will inevitably fall.

Obviously, I'm not rooting for the collapse of America. Nor am I rooting against America's athletes. I love this country and would still rather live here than anywhere else. But we're fooling ourselves if we think the name "America" on the label is still matched by a genuine American product inside. Eventually, we'll probably notice this. And someday, God willing, we'll stop buying into it. On that day, we'll look back on Torino, on the high profile blunders of our brand name athletes, and think, "Wow, that was it. That was the moment."

That was when the world rejected irrational, imperial America like Coke II and other new and unimproved formulas before it.

Jonathan David Morris writes a weekly column on politics, personal freedoms, and pop culture issues. He can be reached at jdm@readjdm.com.


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